Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"Turkey Hunt Herping" or "Eft this hunting stuff!"

Second post of the year and I actually got some herping done. When, you ask? You guessed it: during Pennsylvania's spring gobbler season. 

Saturday, 4/29/17

First up was opening day with my father and Poppy. Another three-generation hunting trip. My grandfather is now 90 years old, going on 91 in a few months, and he's still hanging with us young folk. Gahblessem.

We woke up ass early around 3 AM to drive up IN THE POURING FUCKING RAIN for about 2 hours to get into the woods before first light. The rain stopped before we got up there eventually, but on the way up the PA Turnpike up until around Quakertown, we were smack in the middle of a lightning storm. Some close strikes actually shook the car a bit, and it was like Zeus' Light Show Extravaganza for a while. So driving in a torrential downpour with Thor's pyrotechnics from his '94 tour (think I got enough lighting mythology references in yet?) = not good times. But the weather subsided and we made it up in one piece, ready to hunt (and herp).

I must admit I wasn't really in the herping mood. I was actually focused on the hunting aspect of our turkey hunting trip,and figured I'd see some stuff anyway. The morning was brisk but not chilly, and was warming up slowly. The woods were damp but not very wet as the spring rains usually have them. And they were still. No early morning turkey calls.

At least we got our early morning cardio in.
I won't bore you with our bad luck. Walked up and back on the road and hear not a sound. But eventually, my old familiar lil frands started showing up...

"We're heeeeeeere....."

And they showed up in force. A little orange army.

Sasquatch newt: blurry and out of focus

Here's one.

...and another.

...and another 'nother.

Now I know I posted a lot of red eft pictures in previous posts. And there probably weren't AS MANY efts out as in those previous posts. But there were still a whole buttload of them, so I tried to make the photos a bit more interesting this time around. Also, my front camera lens is broken, but that has nothing to do with it. To spare everyone from my horrible and blurry pictures with a spot on the exposed lens, I tried taking some newt selfies....or "newties" (trademarked. I'll see you in court.)

Which is easier said than done.

And then I took it a step further by trying not to even pick them up and really disturb them. 


It pretty much went like that for a while. Walk around, call for turkeys, take pictures of efts. Rinse and repeat. The more we hunted, the less I wanted to hunt and the more I wanted to herp. The turkeys weren't biting that day, but the efts sure were! They were everywhere once again. They were in groups and pairs and seemed to be sticking together, at least loosely. That, or there were just THAT many efts around.

We adhere to "the Buddy System" in these parts.
They showed up in the strangest of places...

Totally not staged at all: eft on a turkey box call
I actually feared stepping on one this year more than years prior for some reason. And they were ALL OVER THE ROAD.

Like little amphibious Asian drivers


Also blurry


I actually got sick of counting around #37, because I couldn't walk 3 feet without seeing one or four of them.

Here's a shameless selfie with my unsuspecting father and grandfather.
I must admit, I really like some of these shots. They're a different perspective and viewpoint of the woods in the spring, the hunt, and from the herp. How often can you say you've gotten a newt's eye view of the world?

"Just passin' through."
Most of these guys were undisturbed...until I moved them off the road in the direction they were going, that is.

4-eft pileup.

Spider-Newt climbing.

Herping "Where's Waldo?"

He's camera shy.

"Why, hello there. I wasn't expecting company."

One of the smaller efts of the day.

All teh eftz! 

This is why I don't take pictures with the front facing camera on my phone anymore. But still it's time to play "Find Those Newts!"

Starting to lose count of these guys.
This was probably the easiest herping I've ever done. Pretty much every eft was on the road or right off it. All I had to do was look down. It actually got kinda boring because I was seeing SO. MANY. EFTS. 

As far as hunting went, we set up eventually up the ridge a bit and I sat down. I was calling (which had nothing to do with why we heard no turkeys) so I put my Old Yelper box call down on a big boulder to situate myself. Lo and behold, TWO MORE efts on the giant stone next to my box call. One was so small that it's almost barely visible even with the picture enlarged.

We are everywhere.

After no luck for about an hour, we walked around and called some more. I made my way back down to the road while my father and grandfather took their time getting down and milled around up on the ridge. I took some more pictures waiting for them.

More newt selfies.

I started to stir a bit at the bottom of the path up the mountain waiting for them. Right off the road where the path met was a big rotted log. I decided to give it a good lift and I was actually pretty surprised at what I saw. The log didn't come out of the ground fully, but rather split in half because of big holes in the sides and cracks in it. But in the center of the log, now exposed, I looked down to a slimy salamander! I haven't seen one of these guys in a few years (not that I've really looked), so this was a pleasant surprise.

Switched it up a bit.
 He was a good size and healthy looking. Bigger than the two I had found two years ago. He took some wrangling to get to cooperate for a picture.

"Look at how cute I am. LOOK AT ME."
I happily put him back where I found him, reset the log, and by that time, I had showed my father and grandfather as they came down to the road. Neither one cared, of course. We made our way down the road again and, you guessed it, more efts. I'm not going to caption EVERY eft picture because 1) I can't be that witty to come up with a caption for EVERY eft picture, 2) do you REALLY care and would you read all of them? and 3) fuck you.

Lifted a random log: REDBACK!


We walked back to the car to grab some water, rest a minute, and regroup. I was ahead of my fore-bearers so I walked around looking near the cabin. Something jumps in the tall grass near the porch. PICKEREL!

Slippery lil devil.

He almost eluded capture under the porch but I scooped him before he escaped. I decided to give him the same treatment as the efts and the slimy, a selfie!

I couldn't decide which one I liked better.

I set him down and we decided to make our way back towards the big lake from previous posts. Before we made our way, a few more finds in the front lawn of the cabin.


 Flipped a log, another redback!

I actually found another that I couldn't get on camera, so 3 pickerels in one front lawn was pretty sweet. We changed our plan and decided to go up the mountain. My grandfather said he'd stay with the car since we were going to traverse some pretty steep terrain, so that allowed my father and I to get to the top of the ridge and up the mountain further. On the way up, more efts.

There was literally about 12-13 efts in this drying pool of mud.
We called for a bit on the way up. Nothing. As I stopped, giving up on photographing efts, I saw this terrestrial mollusk that I have no luck properly ID'ing...

Common Garden Slug? Someone tell me.
We decided to set up for about an hour on the top of the ridge. At this point it was about 10:30 in the morning. After that, we'd call it quits. We did so, which basically was like sunbathing on the top of a mountain, because all that happened was that I warmed leaned against a big rock. The sun was shining bright now and the temperature had risen enough to walk around in a t-shirt. So really, we sat there for an hour, making turkey calls in vain, while I watched a light breeze blow over my "strutting gobbler" decoy. This hunting shit was beginning to get to me. We gathered ourselves and headed back down. For the first two weeks of the season, you can only hunt until noon. By the time we would get back to the car, our hunting day would be over anyway.

Although I've always loved this view
As we made our way back, I had my head down to navigate myself around all of the large rocks and stones in the dirt road that ran straight up and down the mountain, an access road for the powerline. I noticed something hop a few times at my feet. A BABY AMERICAN TOAD!

I has a small toad.
He was small and red. A beautiful little specimen. I've only seen juvenile American toads up here in the last three years. The only adult I've seen was dead in the big lake. But I've seen a ton of juvies, so obviously they're around and the population is healthy! I asked my father to take a picture since my phone had died at this point from all the eft photography. I put him back down and we continued the trek back.

Once we reached the flat between the mountain and the road, my father got a head of me. I saw something swerve through his feet as he walked. GARTER SNAKE!

And a big one at that.
I snapped this photo of him with my father's camera. My father actually encouraged that I get closer and try to get a better shot. Probably wanted me to get bit. Joke's on him, obviously they aren't poisonous. I actually did get closer to him. He didn't move. I could have taken a better shot of him from that position too. I was right next to him, and very close. I instead thought to snatch him up. He postured a bit, then was off in a flash, literally slithered in between my legs as I crouched down. It was like a cartoon: me bumbling around trying to capture this much smaller creature who was too fast for me and running circles around me. I chased him a big and eventually grabbed him by the tail but let go as he escaped through the leaf litter. I didn't want to hurt him, and I had already gotten the shot.

Bad day for hunting, good day for herping.

Saturday, 4/29 Count:

red eft: 37-50+ ...I stopped counting
pickerel frog: 3
American toad: 1
garter snake: 1
northern redback salamander: 2
slimy salamander: 1

Tuesday, 5/9

I took my grandfather back up again for a midweek hunt. This was supposed to be a three day trip from Sunday to Tuesday, which would have afforded me a lot of time to herp, when I was hunting and when I wasn't hunting. My father and uncle bailed, so that was that. I still wanted to hunt, and so did Poppy, so up we went. Hopefully our luck would change this day. It did not.

Ghost town.
We walked around to no turkeys all day. No efts, either, surprisingly! There's no point in going through any specifics. I had a good day with my grandfather, even on an unsuccessful hunt, and the day was warm, so I felt good about seeing some things.

The woods were quiet, and dry, which explains the lack of efts. I decided to flip some logs since I was surprised with a slimy salamander. 


"Selfiemander"? Terrible
One log afforded me two redbacks. The entire day was pretty quiet and boring, from a hunting and herping standpoint. ONE interesting thing happened to me though...

We wound up walking back to the big lake, and when we arrived, I was mildly excited. It was late in the day, and nothing else was happening. I looked down in the lake as I've done so many times, expecting to see it teaming with eastern newts and tadpoles, maybe even a cluster or string of eggs. I didn't really see anything at all. Could this day be a bust with both turkeys AND with critters for me to document? I slowly walked along the bank, and kicked up what was (probably) a pickerel frog, since they're the only type I've ever seen there. I made my way around and noticed a lone eastern newt swimming around in the weeds. As I went further along, I saw another, way out of reach, swimming near a school of big fish. It went up for a gulp of air, and the fish darted towards it. I swore I was going to watch it get eaten. The fish just stared at it and then turned around. I guess it thought better of a newt lunch. Then I saw some movement down at my feet in the water. Slowly gliding through the weeds, completely submerged: a snake. 

It was bright brown and almost orange, very light in color, like rust. I reached down and grabbed it by the tail and pulled it on to land. I really didn't have any idea what kind it was, but I figured it wasn't venomous. It wasn't a rattler, and it wasn't a copperhead. I still didn't want to risk getting bitten. I fumbled for my phone. I pulled it out but the snake began to slither under the dead grass and almost out of reach. I pulled it back out, trying not to rip him out from under the grass. I noticed a very colorful and distinctive underbelly. I've maybe seen a watersnake ONCE in my life, and it was much darker, and I didn't touch it, so I'd never seen ones underbelly before. I finally got him out and he started to make his way toward the water. Before I could get a picture, he postured for a moment. He looked like he as about to strike, then raced into the water. No picture.

After review, he was a northern watersnake. For the sake of this blog, I'm glad I saw one. It actually gave me a bit of excitement, but I'm pissed I couldn't get a picture. My grandfather laughed at me through the whole ordeal, albeit a very short encounter.

We made our way back to the path through what I can only describe as ideal box turtle habitat, sat for a bit, and then made our way back out of the woods and to the road. We passed right by the spot where the gobbler came in like a ninja, but this time, I was ready...for nothing. No turkey. I did see a string of unidentified eggs in a pool where there were tractor tire tracks.

The best picture I've ever taken.
Scene of the crime.

I knew that picture sucked but I was happy I saw an egg cluster. At the end of the tire track pool, there were a few egg masses on the dry land. I figured they were laid when the pool was bigger and of course were grounded and beached like the S.S. Minnow after the lack of rain. The didn't seem too dry, so I figured I'd return them to the deeper water and hope for the best. Maybe a few will survive.

Bad parenting.
The remainder of the walk back was quiet. We saw some deer and not much else. Vernal pools that I had been teeming with tadpoles in years past were quiet. No frogs were to be seen. No salamanders (dead of alive). Was something wrong? Was I too late in the season? I figured the latter as I saw some tadpoles around and some egg masses in deeper portions of the pools. I guess I was just late to the party again. We made our way out. I told my grandfather to rest at the end of the road while I went ahead and got the car. Today was a great hunt...I mean, hike. I was a little disappointed in the lack of both game birds and herps, but I don't think I'll stop pursuing either anytime soon.

Poppy on the poultry prowl.

Any day in the woods with him is a good day.

Tuesday, 5/9 Count:

northern redback salamander: 2
pickerel frog: 1
northern watersnake: 1
assorted egg masses/strands and tadpoles

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